Are we living in the last moments of earth’s history? Are we living in the very last days?
When I came to faith in Jesus in 1971 at the age of 16, everyone was talking about Bible prophecy, and Hal Lindsey’s book, “The Late Great Planet Earth,” had our attention.
It seemed like everything was falling into place.
Not only was Israel reborn as a nation in 1948, but Jerusalem came back under Jewish control in 1967, which to many was a clearly momentous fulfillment of many biblical prophecies.
And the signs of the times were everywhere, with the counterculture revolution bringing with it an unprecedented outpouring of sexual sin, rebellion, drug abuse, Eastern religion and societal anarchy. Surely this was the last generation.
I remember showing up for a church service one Sunday morning after forgetting to set my clock back the night before, and no one was at the building (because I was one hour early). Had I missed the promised rapture?
Well, fast forward to 2014, and I’m 59, not 16, while our oldest granddaughter is going on 14, and Jesus hasn’t returned yet. What makes us think that today is any different than 1971? What makes us so sure that this is the final generation?
Surely the days of World War II were worse than today in terms of world upheaval and loss of life, not to mention the slaughter of two-thirds of European Jewry. And there was Benito Mussolini with his vision of a revived Roman Empire and Adolph Hitler, the perfect foil for the role of end-time false prophet or even the Antichrist himself.
Not surprisingly, prophecy teachers had their own end-time scenario worked out back then, and they were obviously wrong.
Looking back in American history, we have had times of spiritual backsliding followed by spiritual renewal, sometimes hitting real lows (for example, in the late 1700s after the Revolutionary War). And the deep divisions in our nation today are a fraction of what they were during the time of the Civil War, when brothers from the same family fought against each other on opposite sides of the war and when more than 600,000 Americans died. (This would be the equivalent of over 6 million deaths today.)
Going all the way back to the mid-second century, Justin Martyr stated, “For what things [Jesus] predicted would take place in His name, these we do see being actually accomplished in our sight. … [Such as] ‘Many false Christs and false apostles shall arise, and shall deceive many of the faithful.’”
The “prophetess” Maximilla, who died in 179, stated, “After me there is no prophecy, but only the end of the world.”
And so it has been through different eras of Church history, with dispensationalist prophecy teacher Clarence Larkin writing in 1918, “From what has been said we see that we are living in ‘Perilous Times,’ and that all about us are ‘Seducing Spirits,’ and that they will become more active as the Dispensation draws to its close, and that we must exert the greatest care lest we be led astray.”
Does all this mean that we throw out biblical prophecy and assume that things will go on the same for generations to come, with no end in sight?
We are definitely living in momentous, unprecedented times, and we should certainly live with vigilance and sobriety.
First, the New Testament makes clear that the “last days” were initiated when Jesus began His public ministry, announcing the coming of God’s kingdom, being fully set in motion when He died and rose from the dead. Since then, we have been living in the final era, the period of the last days. (See, for example, 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:1-2; James 5:3; 1 Peter 1:20; 4:7; 1 John 2:18.)
This last days era is characterized by great spiritual outpouring (Acts 2:14-21) and great human sin (2 Timothy 3:1-6), by great spiritual advance and great human apostasy (Matthew 13:39b; 24:11-14). This means that, wherever we find ourselves in these last days, we should be alert and sober, since these are times of great opportunity as well as great deception.
Second, it is clear that things are moving toward the final apocalypse, and as they move forward, they will intensify.
Just consider the increase in Christian believers through the centuries. At the turn of the first century, they represented less than one in every 300 people on the planet. Today that number is roughly one in three (if we count all professing Christians) or one in 6 (or, even one in 10) if we use a much more conservative number. The largest portion of this growth took place in the last 50 years, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Consider also that before 1967, many end-time biblical prophecies, such as Zechariah 12 and 14, could not come to pass, since there was not a majority Jewish population in what was called Palestine, and there was not a Jewish-controlled Jerusalem.
Since 1967, those prophecies can come to pass, including the turning of the nations of the world against Israel in the end.
Third, with the advent of the Internet and instant world communication, not to mention our ability to blow up the entire planet with our nuclear armaments, we are living in unique and unprecedented times in which the potential for good or evil has been exponentially multiplied.
On top of all this is the fact that we all have only one life to live, and then we step into eternity.
For me, this means increased sobriety, increased commitment and increased faith. Nothing else makes sense, whether Jesus is returning in 10 years or 100 years.
As my colleague Dr. Josh Peters remarked, “I don’t know if this is the last generation, but it’s our last generation.”